A young ambassador is busting stigma around employee mental health


Sandhya D'Mello

Published: Thu 11 Mar 2021, 5:46 PM

When Covid-19 has not claimed lives and livelihoods, it has impacted mental health. Long periods of social distancing and work from home have significantly altered the course of our lives. A shift as monumental as this one has not gone unnoticed by businesses across the region who are now focusing on employee mental health and well-being on a priority basis. Recently, Global health services company Cigna Corporation published the fifth edition of Cigna Covid-19 Global Impact Study, which spotlights an improvement in the UAE’s health and well-being index.

The study, which surveys 2,253 people from eight key markets, monitors the pandemic’s impact on people’s overall well-being, with the last phase of the study conducted between November 23 and December 2, 2020, when Covid-19 vaccines were being rolled out in the country. The UAE wrapped up 2020 with a decent performance on the overall Wellbeing Index as compared to other markets, with a score of 67.4 points in December, up by 1.8 points in October 2020. To set the numbers in perspective, the global average was 60.9 points in December.

By all measures, mental health has become a focal point not only in our personal space, but professional environment as well. Preventing employee burnout is the need of the hour, and a young Egyptian speaker is slowly and steadily creating awareness on the subject. Dubai-based Ally Salama has amassed a fairly robust following of 77,000 on Instagram alone. His message is loud and clear: the conversation on mental health has to go mainstream and enter the corporate space as well. The 24-year-old also does a hugely popular podcast on the subject called Empathy Always Wins. His online magazine EMPWR was among Harvard’s top seven most impactful social media initiatives in 2019.

A former professional athlete, Salama is using his own experience with clinical depression to further dialogue on the subject. He aspires to create a cultural shift where mental health is part of conversation in every household in the region. “My goal is to open minds and create change,” he says. “Although many people today understand that mental illness is a medical condition, there are still many stigmatising the issue leading to misconceptions and stereotypes.”

In 2019, Salama took to the podium at the World Health Organisation, where he spoke about his struggle with depression, as well as his journey to help those with mental illnesses overcome the stigma. Today, Salama is leading the first ever regional data in history on mental health in entrepreneurship ecosystem in Mena. “It’s more important than ever right now to incorporate mental wellbeing initiatives into the culture of work. The global research coming out is showing worrying signs, especially when we come to view the economic burden that poor mental health has had on our businesses as well as our local economy. We’ve been in touch with authorities after an increase in suicide attempts in 2020. I’m incredibly happy to see the government taking action and leading the way.”

Focusing on the intersection between mental health, empathy in leadership, and building emotional intelligence, Salama is keen to establish that anyone can be susceptible to mental affliction. He points out that for those in highly competitive environments— such as sports, entrepreneurship, and leadership roles — it can become even more difficult to accept and acknowledge mental health issues. “I want everyone to know they are not alone on this journey, and that together, we can instill a renewed positivity among those who have been suffering silently,” he says. “Support and understanding offer hope to those who need it the most.”


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